Hugh Rawson, author of “Wicked Words” writes; “Of all the bits of folk “wisdom” that are handed down from generation to generation, this has to be one of the most misleading. Names do hurt. Words are weapons. Bones heal faster than psyches.” (1)
We support the First Amendment (2) to our Constitution which gives us the right to free speech. We all have a right to express ourselves. We do not, however, believe that the right of free speech means that we can use it to hurt others, invade their privacy or manipulate them into doing something that is not in their best interest.
The fact is that words have an effect on each of us. “When we think we are using language, language is using us.” (3) The words we use “invisibly molds our way of thinking about people, actions, and the world around us. Military metaphors train us to think about-and see-everything in terms of fighting, conflict, and war. This perspective then limits our imaginations when we consider what we can do about situations we would like to understand or change.” (4)
To begin, we must define the terms, “Civil Discourse” and “Evil Speech. This is only the beginning. Do not assume that it is as simple as choosing one or the other. There are times that positive statements will result in negative outcomes and other times when you have to be negative to help someone.
The most important thing to remember about both is that (1) it depends on your whether your intent is to be helpful/positive or hurtful/negative and (2) whether person to whom you are speaking is going to be receptive or you are going to make things worse.
None of this is easy, but the benefits are immeasurable.
Civil Discourse is any communication; exchange of information, in speech or writing; marked by or showing tact and polite consideration for others, even, and most importantly, when the parties disagree.
It requires respect for others. It neither diminishes others moral worth nor questions their good judgment. It avoids hostility, direct antagonism, and excessive manipulation and/or persuasion. The secret to using more positive Civil Discourse lies in the self-discipline to NOT say something hastily.
Evil Speech Nowadays we call it bullying, trolling, gossip, cyber-gossip, uncivil discourse, slander, lying, mockery, name calling, finger pointing, blaming, defamation, intimidation, stalking and harassment. These derogatory, disparaging, belittling statements, false or true, can cause someone physical, financial, and/or emotional harm.
We call it “Evil Speech.” Because, what it is, plain and simple is ABUSE: Verbal and Emotional. The term, Evil Speech, comes from the Old Testament Hebrew “Lashon Hora”, literally, “evil tongue.” Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan wrote that it is comments made directly to someone. It takes two forms: derogatory and damaging statements. (5)
Derogatory: Disparaging, belittling comments, intended to detract or diminish the subject of the statement, even if they don’t actually achieve their goal.
Damaging: Impairing the usefulness or value of a person or property. They do, actually, achieve their intended purpose.
Gossip is indirect Evil Speech. It is said to others about someone. It is when a person spreads stories, rumors or talk of a personal, sensational, or intimate nature about a third person. Repeating the Evil Speech to the target of the vile language makes you part of the problem.
These days, other than things said directly to you or someone close to you, you find Evil Speech all around you: nasty social media postings, damaging comments and pictures in magazines, newspapers and on the radio and the internet. We now know that its victims can suffer very serious effects on their emotions and the structure of the brain itself.
Rhetoric, according to the dictionary is: “rhet•o•ric (rµt“…r-¹k) n. Abbr. rhet. 1.a. The art or study of using language effectively and persuasively. b. A treatise or book discussing this art. 2. Skill in using language effectively and persuasively. 3.a. A style of speaking or writing, especially the language of a particular subject: fiery political rhetoric. b. Language that is elaborate, pretentious, insincere, or intellectually vacuous: His offers of compromise were mere rhetoric.” (6) It is defined as a good thing or, as in 3.b., having little effect.
Nowadays rhetoric is used in marketing, politics, journalism, etc. to manipulate. Because of its usage, we consider it Evil Speech, particularly, in Politics.
Negative Campaigning can be found in most marketplaces where ideas are contested. In US politics, “mudslinging,” has been called “as American as Mississippi mud” and “as American as apple pie”. Some research suggests negative campaigning is the norm in all political venues, mitigated only by the dynamics of a particular contest.
There are a number of techniques used in negative campaigning. Among the most effective is running advertisements attacking an opponent’s personality, record, or opinion. There are 2 main types of ads used in negative campaigning: attack and contrast. (Wikipedia)
Political Rhetoric Techniques
Spin In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing an interpretation of an event or campaign to persuade public opinion in favor or against a certain organization or public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, "spin" often implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.
Politicians are often accused by their opponents of claiming to be honest and seek the truth while using spin tactics to manipulate public opinion. Because of the frequent association between spin and press conferences (especially government press conferences), the room in which these take place is sometimes described as a spin room. A group of people who develop spin may be referred to as "spin doctors" who engage in "spin doctoring" for the person or group that hired them.
"Weasel words" are statements which appear to assert something but subtly imply something different, opposite, or stronger in the way they are made. A common form of weasel wording is through vague attribution, where a statement is dressed with authority with no substantial basis. Phrases such as those above present the appearance of support for statements but can deny the reader the opportunity to assess the source of the viewpoint. They may disguise a biased view. Claims about what people say, think, feel, or believe, and what has been shown, demonstrated, or proved should be clearly attributed. However, views which are properly attributed to a reliable source may use similar expressions if they accurately represent the opinions of the source. Reliable sources may analyze and interpret, but we, as editors, cannot do so ourselves, since that would be original research or would violate the neutral point of view. Equally, editorial irony and damning with faint praise have no place in Wikipedia articles.
Sound Bite A sound bite is a short clip of speech or music extracted from a longer piece of audio, often used to promote or exemplify the full length piece. In the context of journalism, a sound bite is characterized by a short phrase or sentence that captures the essence of what the speaker was trying to say, and is used to summarize information and entice the reader or viewer. The term was coined by the U.S. media in the 1970s. Since then, politicians have increasingly employed sound bites to summarize their positions.
Due to its brevity, the sound bite often overshadows the broader context in which it was spoken, and can be misleading or inaccurate. The insertion of sound bites into news broadcasts or documentaries is open to manipulation, leading to conflict over journalistic ethics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_bite
Dodging the Question When asked a question, most of us feel we are obliged to answer it truthfully, but what if we do not want to answer? Here are some of the ways to dodge it.
Not answering When asked a question, a common social custom is that you should answer, yet in reality you are seldom obliged to answer. So the simplest approach to dodging the question is just to refuse to answer.
Silence Perhaps the easiest way to avoid the question is to be quiet and just look back at the questioner, or maybe elsewhere. This is not always easy in practice, but when you become comfortable with it, then it is only the other person who feels discomfort.
If they ask the question again or make a stronger demand that the question is answered, you can continue the silence or use another method.
Saying no A straightforward refusal is simply to say that you are not going to answer the question.
Ignoring the question A simple way of not answering is to act as if no question was asked and continuing the conversation by talking about something else.
Turning the tables Turning the tables means exchanging roles, so you take control of the situation and act as if you are in charge, with higher authority than the other person.
Ask a question in return The simplest way of turning the tables by asking a question in return, perhaps ignoring the question that was actually asked or asking something similar in return.
Challenging the right to ask the question Turn the tables by telling the person that they have no right to ask that particular question.
Becoming the interrogator Taking this principle further, you can start asking them all sorts of probing question, effectively grabbing control and putting them on the defensive.
Answering another question A technique that many politicians use is to answer the question that would be asked to allow a desired point to be made. Robert McNamara epitomized this when he said, 'Never answer the question that is asked of you. Answer the question that you wish had been asked.'
Answering a completely different question The simplest approach is to act as if a question you want to be asked has been asked.
Explicitly changing the question A variant on this is to explicitly change the question, telling the questioner they have asked the wrong thing and then saying what that question should be (and then answering it).
Answering a similar question Research has shown that you will be trusted more if you answer a similar question to the one asked, rather than one which is completely different.
Using transition devices This is a few words that are inserted before your response. The transition devices are often friendly and offer praise to the questioner. This helps to make what you say more acceptable and also more difficult for them to challenge.
Lying Another way of not answering the question is by simple lying or otherwise being less than wholly untruthful in some way.
Straight lies The most straightforward way of lying is complete fabrication, where you make up an answer that is entirely untrue.
Bending the truth Straight lies can be difficult as other evidence may get you into further trouble. A more effective way is often to tell mostly the truth but then lie only in a critical part of what you are saying.
Being economical with the truth In what has euphemistically been called “being economical with the truth”; you can be completely truthful but avoid difficulty by omitting the critical elements that would cause problems for you.
Wedge Issue is a political or social issue, often of a controversial or divisive nature, which splits apart a demographic or population group. Political campaigns use wedge issues to exploit tension within a targeted population. (Wikipedia)
Techniques for Handling Dodgers
Repeat the question The simplest method to use is simply to ask the question again. Many people, when faced with this repetition will see that you are not going to give up and will therefore answer the question properly.
This can turn into a competition where the questioner keeps repeating the question and the other person keeps avoiding. If the avoider is determined, then they can easily win, making this a possibly unsuccessful strategy.
Ask again later Sometimes people are not ready to answer the question at the time, perhaps because they have other things on their mind. They may also refuse to answer because of contextual factors such as other people being there and the social embarrassment or status issues that answering would cause.
Rephrase the question Sometimes the question is not understood or the words offend. In such cases, a simple approach is to ask the question using different words. Further explanation and detail around the subject may help clarify the question.
Change the tone It can also help to reflect on how the question is being asked, for example with a commanding tone that causes reaction or in a weak way that offers refusal as a real option.
Name the game People such as politicians often play games around questioning, refusing or answering differently. A simple approach to game-players is to names the game, showing them that you can see what they are doing.
Ask about underlying issues A softer approach is to assume that the person is unable to answer the question for some deeper reason. By taking a counseling or therapeutic position, you can empathize with their problem and try to find out more about why they feel unable to answer the question. See also: Resisting persuasion, lying
1. (Rawson, Hugh, “Wicked Words”, p.1)
2. "First Amendment". Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute.Archivedfrom the original on May 3, 2013. Retrieved May 3, 2013.
3. Tannen, Deborah, 1998, The Argument Culture, Random House, New York, p. 14
4. ibid., p. 14
5. Finkelman, Rabbi Shimon and Berkowitz, Rabbi Yitzchak, 1995, “Chofetz Chaim, A Lesson A Day”, Artscroll Mesorah Publications in conjunction with The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, New York, NY and Monsey, NJ.
6. The American Heritage Dictionary’s 3rd edition, 1998
Sources used in our definition of Civil Discourse
1. Wikipedia article on civil discourse, last modified on 1 July, 2013 at 14:14, quoting Gergen, Kenneth J, 2001, “Social Construction in Context”, pp. 71-5, ISBN 0-7619-6545-9
2. Definition of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, University Of Arizona from an article entitled “Civil Discourse and the Quality of Civic Engagement” by Jane M Prescott–Smith
3. From a discussion with Diane Rheem at Oberlin College as related by Patti Choby, of the Cobalt Group, April 2009.
4. Davis, James Calvin, , “In Defense of Civility”, the article, “What Exactly is Civil Discourse Today?” by Patriot-News Op-Ed on January 14, 2011 at 5:37 AM by the Rev. James D. Brown
Sources used in our definition of Evil Speech
1. The American Heritage Dictionary’s 3rd edition, 1998
2. More information about his works can be found on Rabbi Kagan’s Wikipedia page.